As the 2015 Louisiana Legislature nears the halfway point, the always volatile debate over Common Core is about to heat up again.
The House Education Committee is set to meet on Wednesday at 9 a.m., and two key anti-Common Core measures top the agenda.
However, even backers of this year’s repeal efforts concede their side faces major hurdles unless a late-hour compromise is struck.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, is a co-sponsor of one of the proposals — House Bill 672 — that would require new standards to be crafted.
“I don’t think it has much of a chance to get out of committee,” said Pope, former superintendent of the Livingston Parish school district.
The other key measure up for arguments — House Bill 373 — would require the Legislature to approve the benchmarks starting in 2017.
Yet, Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, sponsor of that plan, sees problems.
Geymann views the committee as so hostile to his plan that he tried earlier this session to persuade the state House to take the highly unusual step of letting the bill bypass the panel and force a debate in the full House.
That bid failed.
Geymann said while a committee compromise would be preferable, getting there “will be a challenge.”
Common Core repeal backers face two other major obstacles: dwindling time and Louisiana’s time-consuming, $1.6 billion shortfall debate.
The bills are getting their first hearing with barely four weeks left in the session, which ends on June 11.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the sessionlong battle over state finance problems overshadows other topics.
“I think, at this point in time, as we get closer to the end of session, there are some challenges with Common Core bills because the budget is the overwhelming issue that everybody is focused on,” Richard said.
The new standards in reading, writing and math have been a flashpoint for political debates in Louisiana for the past 21 months.
Bills to scrap the standards were killed last year in the same committee.
Efforts by Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Common Core critics to derail the standards and tests through lawsuits have failed.
Nearly 320,000 students just finished the second round of tests on the new benchmarks, one sign that the standards are becoming more entrenched in public schools.
Comments from the 19-member House Education Committee before the session suggested that pro-Common Core forces still enjoy a majority.
“I think most of the folks on the committee are generally supportive of Common Core,” said Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a member of the panel.
The pro-Common Core group Council for a Better Louisiana issued a “commentary” on the issue that said criticism seems to be fading “except for the usual outbursts from a noisy and increasingly marginalized few.”
Closed-door legislative meetings to try to strike a compromise have been held, including one last week.
State Superintendent of Education John White, who backs Common Core, has been in some of the discussions, lawmakers said.
Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, a member of the committee, said both sides remain open to talks.
Common Core backers note that four state committees of educators have started reviewing the standards for possible changes, which will be recommended to Louisiana’s top school board by December.
Not enough, Geymann said.
“We don’t want to review Common Core,” he said. “We want to develop a new set of standards done here in the state of Louisiana that has public involvement in that process.”
Jindal, a former Common Core backer who switched sides, offered only tepid support for repeal efforts last year, officials said.
Earlier this year, with some fanfare at the Governor’s Mansion, Jindal endorsed a bill by House Republican leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria — House Bill 672.
Whether his support will have any impact is unclear.
The governor is a lame duck, has been politically battered by the budget crisis and spends considerable time outside of Louisiana testing the waters for a long-shot bid to win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Pope said if the bills die in committee, anti-Common Core amendments will be offered on the House floor on other measures.
Harris said he is optimistic his bill will emerge from the House panel.
“We have real Louisiana standards written by real Louisianans in a real Louisiana democratic fashion,” he said.
Shane Riddle, government relations specialist for the Louisiana Association of Educators, said Geymann’s bill has a chance to win committee approval.
“I honestly don’t think the Harris bill is going to come out of the Education Committee in the posture it is in now,” Riddle said.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.